Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

Chapter 12: Initial Distribution Christian Economics

Posted by M. C. on November 30, 2019

The story of the representative fall of mankind reveals that Adam’s lust was not the desire to accumulate wealth. He already owned the entire creation, except for one tree.

This passage means that all worldviews that are based on pantheism, meaning the equality of God and nature, are wrong. It also means that all forms of pantheism that place nature on an equal status with mankind are wrong. Nature is subordinate to mankind. Nature’s resources therefore belong to mankind.

Gary North – November 30, 2019

God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the sky, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in his own image. In his own image he created him. Male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful, and multiply. Fill the earth, and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the surface of all the earth, and every tree with fruit which has seed in it. They will be food to you. To every beast of the earth, to every bird of the heavens, and to everything that creeps upon the earth, and to every creature that has the breath of life I have given every green plant for food.” It was so (Genesis 1:26–30).

AnalysisI have called this declaration by God the dominion covenant. Mankind was not yet in existence, but these words are binding on mankind. God spoke representatively for mankind. As Creator, He had this right of representative covenantal declaration. The dominion covenant defines mankind. It identifies each person as made in God’s image. But it also identifies unified mankind as made in God’s image. This image is both unified and plural because God is both unified and plural: “Let us.” This is Trinitarian theology. It is Trinitarian social theory. It is Trinitarian economic theory. God is both one and many; mankind is both one and many.

God’s declaration established a hierarchy: God > man > nature. Mankind (collective) is in charge of nature because people and institutions are God’s agents. “God blessed them and said to them”: the word “them” is plural. Mankind represents God to nature, and nature to God. This representation is both legal (trusteeship) and economic (stewardship).

This passage means that all worldviews that are based on pantheism, meaning the equality of God and nature, are wrong. It also means that all forms of pantheism that place nature on an equal status with mankind are wrong. Nature is subordinate to mankind. Nature’s resources therefore belong to mankind. This is a matter of delegated ownership. God is the cosmic Owner of the universe because He is its Creator. “The earth is the Lord’s, and its fullness, the world, and all who live in it. For he has founded it upon the seas and established it on the rivers” (Psalm 24:1–2). God delegated ownership to mankind. This ownership is governed by God’s purpose for the creation, which is redemptive. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:3–6, English Standard Version).

In the declaration given to Adam personally, there was a law (point three) with a negative sanction (point four) attached. “The Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to work it and to maintain it. The Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘From every tree in the garden you may freely eat. But from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you may not eat, for on the day that you eat from it, you will surely die’” (Genesis 2:15–17). The supreme covenantal issue was obedience (point two). God placed a legal boundary (point three) around a tree. This tree had a specific characteristic. Its fruit provided ethical knowledge. This placed ethics (point three) at the center of the covenant. But it also placed knowledge (point four) at the center. Knowledge in this case is the ability to render judgment. This meant the ability to declare judicially good or evil: “not guilty” or “guilty.” This meant the subjective imputation of meaning.

I identified allocation as the second analytical economic category (Chapter 7). The dominion covenant specified the terms of the initial allocation of capital. This was the initial distribution. It was corporate: the distribution of the earth to mankind. But, from the beginning, God dealt on an individual basis with Adam. First there was grace: the distribution. Then there came law: a task. God assigned Adam a specific task: naming the animals of the garden. This is the pattern: grace precedes law. But law always follows. Soon after the initial distribution came a specific responsibility. Only after that task was completed was a second distribution made by God: a wife. There was payment required: a rib. It was not a zero-price distribution. This was the advent of the price system. Adam learned that there are no free wives. There are also no free lunches.

After the temptation, Adam wanted additional authority. This would mean additional responsibility. He had already named the animals and his wife. He had the preliminary ability to assess meaning or function and then verbally declare the results of his imputation. But this ability did not yet include ethics. This was a missing piece of his being, he thought. He did not want to wait. He could have eaten from the tree of life, thereby ending on God’s judicial terms the threat of the negative sanction of death, but he refused. He went straight for the forbidden fruit after his wife tested God’s word by eating and surviving.

The story of the representative fall of mankind reveals that Adam’s lust was not the desire to accumulate wealth. He already owned the entire creation, except for one tree. Rather, he wanted to possess specialized knowledge. He wanted to know good from evil. He committed evil in order to gain this knowledge. He rebelled against God’s covenantal hierarchy by means of an invasion of God’s legal boundary, which was a boundary of ownership: “No Trespassing.” Here is my point: the original desire to steal was based on a quest for specialized knowledge, not wealth.

God did not need additional knowledge. He is omniscient. This is an incommunicable attribute of God. Man will never be omniscient. Adam wanted more knowledge than God had distributed to him. This limitation vexed him. He was discontented with God’s initial distribution. He was also discontented with the sequential pattern required for him to gain more knowledge. He wanted more knowledge at a below-market price. But there are no free lunches. There is no free knowledge. He did not want to pay the price: labor, learning, and time. He decided to gain additional knowledge on his own terms. The terms were ethical: theft.

Greater knowledge would bring with it greater responsibility. He did not want to work in order to gain the ability to deal with this added responsibility. He wanted instant responsibility. He gained it. But he was unable to deal with it covenantally. He sewed fig leaves rather than going straight to the tree of life. He was expelled from the garden after his trial and sentencing by God.

The fall of man set the pattern for mankind’s subsequent revolts: the quest for premature knowledge. Knowledge brings power. Men want power. This power is the power to judge and then convict: point four. We call the evaluation process judgment. We call the declaration of guilt or innocence judgment. We call the imposition of sanctions judgment. To gain the power to impose sanctions, men must seek and accumulate knowledge. Covenant-keepers who wish to shape the future must gain authority by means of knowledge, which includes wisdom: decision-making. They may gain wealth, but their purpose for this wealth is supposed to be accumulation of responsibility. The essence of covenant-breaking man’s rebellion is his discontent with God’s initial distribution of wealth, but wealth of a specific kind: knowledge that leads to autonomous power.

The supreme model of this pattern of rebellion in modern times was the Russian Communist revolutionary Josef Djugashvili, who took an alias, as did other senior Bolsheviks. He called himself Stalin: the Russian word for steel. He became a Communist in 1899. He moved from organizing public protests and strikes to organizing a major crime in 1907. His gang robbed a convoy taking money to the Imperial bank of Tiflis, killing 40 people. He did not keep this money, which was a fortune. He used it to further the revolution in the name of Karl Marx. Yet he had begun his life’s calling a decade earlier as a seminary student in Tiflis. Then he switched his theology of personal and social redemption by the shed blood of Christ to Marx’s religion of revolution: personal and social redemption by the shed blood of the bourgeoisie in a proletarian revolution. He had greater knowledge of the covenantal truth of Christianity than any of the other Russian Communist leaders did. He was truly self-conscious, just as Marx and Engels were self-conscious: converts from Christianity.

A. Adam and CrusoeMost people cannot follow long chains of reasoning. Among those who can follow them, most of them are unable to remember all of them in the correct order. Even if they could, it would not help. They could not persuade most listeners by means of their recitation of these chains of knowledge. (Consider the 20 principles of covenantal economics, meaning five times four, with three words each, in Chapter 2.)

The Bible overcomes this limitation by the use of historical stories. The strictly theological books of the Bible are rare. The wisdom literature—Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes—are Old Testament exceptions. The epistles in the New Testament are exceptions. Jesus’ parables are made-up stories in the midst of historical narratives.

1. A Teaching Technique

It is common for economists to begin their analyses of scarcity with a version of Robinson Crusoe,..


ConclusionChristian economic theory must begin with creation and its related issues: purpose, ownership, and providence. Next, it must move to Adam in the garden, not with Robinson Crusoe on an island. The categories of scarcity and resource allocation are important, but they are subordinate to the covenantal issue of ownership: God’s original ownership and man’s delegated ownership. Christian economic theory must extend its analysis beyond family ownership to the wider range of ownership and responsibility as these inescapably related concepts apply in the market-organized social division of labor.

The concept of ownership in a market society is inescapably related to the concept of disownership. The legal right to sell property and thereby transfer legal responsibility is the crucial legal aspect of the market process. Without the right to sell property, the market’s self-contained and self-enforced (endogenous) sanctions of profit and loss would not govern the market process. Economic theory would lose its status as a science. It would become no more rigorous than sociology—a cruel fate in the eyes of economists.

The right to disown property and therefore the right to transfer legal responsibility does not apply well inside the legal boundaries of the covenantal institutions of the family, the church, and the state. This is why the categories of market analysis do not apply well to families, churches, and civil governments. I have covered this issue in detail in The Covenantal Structure of Christian Economics.

God’s initial distribution of wealth is the starting point, both conceptually and historically, of the theory of market exchange. The dominion covenant still applies in the post-fall world. There is covenantal continuity: pre-fall and post-fall. This means that there is both ethical continuity and legal continuity. The heart of this continuity is God’s prohibition of theft (Exodus 20:15). The decalogue is both moral and legal. Because of the covenantal and historical continuity regarding the initial distribution and distribution today, I must discuss the issue of the legality and morality of distribution and redistribution today. I do this in the next chapter.


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